For the last several years, as I’ve waded into the world of gender equality through this blog and in other contexts, I’ve been inspired by the ministry of a group called Christians for Biblical Equality. The good folks at CBE published my gender reconciliation article last year, and I had the joy of attending the 2015 CBE Conference in Los Angeles.
And so it’s with a great deal of affection and gratitude that I can share that I’ll be participating in the 2017 CBE Conference in Orlando…as a presenter!
I’m honored to contribute to the conference theme, “Mutual By Design: Building God’s Church Together” by leading a workshop entitled “The Blessed Alliance at Work: Women and Men Partnering Together to Advance the Mission of God.”
Sounds good, yes? I’ll be sharing the model I have been developing over the last three years in my doctoral program, and we’ll think together about how to develop flourishing partnerships in greater measure in our contexts. I’m eager to take my research out for a spin with this great group of folks.
So, here’s the question…who’s coming to Orlando with me?!?
Well, it’s Inauguration Day. The heretofore unthinkable is becoming a reality and later this morning, Donald Trump is being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.
There were many things about Trump’s candidacy that revolted you, from his overtly racist rhetoric to his seemingly off-the-cuff policy decisions to how he so casually and rudely put down his opponents. At every turn, you found yourself saying, “this guy has no right to be running for office.”
But of all the things that made Trump a reprehensible candidate, it was his treatment of women that vexed you the most. Simply put, you consider him to be a misogynist. You honestly think that Donald Trump sees men as being superior to women. And that is unacceptable in the Oval Office.
So, as we collectively lurch and tumble into four years of a Trump presidency, I want to charge you to do these three things:
First, care for the women around you who are threatened by a Trump presidency. That includes the single mothers in your neighborhood who worry about what will happen in the wake of his promised Obamacare repeal. That includes the women in your life who are repeatedly offended by Trump’s comments and actions. And that includes your daughters, who are going to have to grow up with a president that you wouldn’t trust to babysit them. Care for these women by listening to their concerns, by offering encouraging words, and by modeling a different brand of manhood.
Second, use your male privilege to empower women whenever possible. From Trump’s cabinet picks alone, it seems clear that he is not going to be the kind of president who goes out of his way to empower women, so you must do that in even greater measure. Look for opportunities to sponsor women into greater leadership, in your church, at work, in the soccer club, and in every other situation you find yourself in. Before you say “yes” to anything, ask yourself the question “is there a woman that I can invite to take this on instead of me?” Because you’re a man, culture gives you power; put it to work on behalf of others.
Third, pay attention to what he says and does. And speak out when he crosses the line. Donald Trump is a creature of twitter, so tweet at him. Every time he says or does something to further push women to the margins, have at it. The Bible talks about speaking truth in love. The “love” part comes easy for you; you’ll need to focus on speaking truth where it’s needed.
Rob, commit yourself to these three things, and more.
Now is the time to practice what you preach.
Now is the time to be the best version of yourself.
Years ago, I found myself in a knock-down, drag-out theological conversation about the Bible’s teaching on the role of women in the church. We were in the campus cafeteria, but the only things getting eaten up that day were me and my arguments. Let the reader understand that I was dramatically overmatched, up against a well-prepared and belligerent person for whom this issue was central. He was ready, I was not.
It was a smackdown.
I’ll illustrate. At one point in the proceedings, in the middle of his long digression about 1 Timothy and desperate to somehow stem the tide, I found myself blurting out, “well, I disagree with your hermeneutic.” He paused for a second and asked me what I meant. And in the 20 seconds it took me to try in vain to come up with a good answer, he decided that my time was up and resumed his central argument, which was that by allowing women to speak in our InterVarsity Large Group meetings, I was functioning as a false teacher.
It was ugly.
Now, years later, I have more and better words. In particular, I know now what I mean by “I disagree with your hermeneutic.” What I mean is this:
Proper biblical interpretation reckons with the context in which the passage was written.
And that’s really the central message of the new-ish book Paul Behaving Badly, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. According to the authors, the process of understanding the message of Scripture must necessarily include a serious effort to reckon with the context in which a particular text sits.
It’s a long quote, but here’s what they have to say about dealing with context in the interpretive process:
“One of the challenges of interpreting Paul is that his writings are what scholars call ‘occasional writings.’ That doesn’t mean that Paul only wrote periodically. It means that when he wrote, it was with a specific audience and situation in mind. His writings were specific to a particular occasion. This wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem for us if we had all the information to reconstruct the occasions for which Paul wrote. If we knew, for example, what questions people had asked him, what crises he was responding to, what books were on his desk when he penned his thoughts, well, the work would be half done for us. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to all that information.
What we have to work with are Paul’s letters compiled in the New Testament. These letters are half a correspondence. In some cases, they are Paul’s responses to letters he received from others. But we don’t have their letters with their questions and concerns, so we’re listening in on only one side of a private conversation. We don’t know the exact dates all the letters were composed, so we can’t say with absolute confidence what situations or events may have shaped Paul’s thoughts on a subject. So then we must weigh all the evidence and make educated guesses. Like all good readers of Paul, we try to recreate the world in which Paul was ministering and writing, and interpret what he had to say in that context.”
This quote captures well the challenge of context. Grasping the context surrounding Paul’s words is surely a challenge, though it’s a challenge that must be accepted in pursuit of right interpretation.
In their chapter “Was Paul a Chauvinist?”, the authors engage some of the verses where Paul seems to restrict the full participation of women in the first church, like the 1 Timothy text that we were talking about back in the cafeteria that day. As they overlay these verses on a thorough examination of the first century context around women, it becomes clear that the passages in question are not meant to be timeless prohibitions. Instead, they are culturally-bound admonitions, meant for the first audience first and foremost.
And Paul’s injunctions would have pushed the cultural envelope. As Richards and O’Brien put it:
“Paul does indeed behave badly when it comes to women. His Jewish culture would not have been pleased with all of the freedom and responsibility he suggested women had in Christ. Traditional Roman culture would have been equally displeased for the same reasons, and the modern ‘liberated’ women of the day would have felt restricted by Paul’s teachings.”
If I had a do-over, if I could walk back into that cafeteria again, I’d like the think the outcome would be different. And it would be different because we’d talk about context, and about the occasional nature of Paul’s letters.
What was the problem with that guy’s hermeneutic?
He paid no heed to context.
And so he missed Paul’s heart for the full liberation of women in the church.
The other day, I found myself in Berkeley with a spare hour to kill, so I did what any 20-year veteran campus minister would do and walked the campus at Cal.
What a beautiful place. Stately architecture, a wonderfully diverse student body, and pleasantly surprising pockets of nature throughout.
Unfortunately, I also caught a subtle glimpse of Tertullian. Here:
Do you see what I saw?!?
Evidently, Cal has two faculty clubs. Well, and an eye center, but I digress…
There’s a “Faculty Club,” and then there’s a “Women’s Faculty Club.” The nomenclature is significant in good part because of what’s missing:
You see what’s happening here? Cal is lacking a “Men’s Faculty Club.” Instead, it has a “Faculty Club” alongside its “Women’s Faculty Club.” Evidently, there’s no need to explicitly designate the Faculty Club as “Men’s.” Why?
Because in our world masculinity remains the default setting.
Friends, this is male privilege. To not have to clarify that the Faculty Club is (or was) for men only is the epitome of bias.
I did a bit of research this morning, and let me fill out the picture a bit. According to this history, Cal’s Women’s Faculty Club was formed in 1919. Why? You guessed it. Because women weren’t permitted in the other, male only Faculty Club. Instead, the Women’s Faculty Club offered Cal’s female faculty “a place of their own.”
As for the Faculty Club, well, the building looks pretty amazing, and the website does note that “women have enjoyed full membership benefits for decades.” How many decades? The site doesn’t say. We don’t know.
But we do know this:
It’s time to be done with the masculine default.
Last week, I got the opportunity to train a church staff team on the topic of flourishing partnerships between women and men. It was a big moment for me, so I decided I’d bring along my secret weapon:
That’s right, this little 8 year old charmer was the best wing-girl a dad could ask for. And as we were heading to the church that morning, we talked about what she would do to pass the time during the three hour training. At one point, I said, “heck, maybe you should take notes on what Daddy does well and what could use some work.”
Be careful what you wish for!
I meant it as a throwaway comment, but she took me up on it. First, here’s her “Good Notes on Daddy:”
For those of you who can’t read Lily, here are the 7 things I did well:
- Talking, which she labeled “very wise.” I’ll take it.
- Family photo, on the flash drive.
- Lesson men and women in partnership. This was her way of saying that she approved of my main point. Phew.
- Photo slide show. Basically, she liked seeing herself on the big screen.
- They know what he’s talking about. Good to know I was being clear!
- You’re happy and funny; you’re not strict. That’s right, I’m the fun teacher!
- You give them breaks. And, to be clear, on each of those breaks Lily got into the candy…
And, now, the bad news:
Here you go, the “Bad Notes on Daddy:”
- How you show emotions. She thinks I could show more emotion when I teach and train. #fairpoint
- Call on people if they have a question. Evidently, I missed a hand at one point…
- Show a picture of me and Hannah. Huge mistake. I had showed a slide with three pictures of “Daddy Adventures” I had gone on with my three older kids. Missing? The picture from the day before where Lily had hung out with her 2 year old friend Hannah. My bad Lily!
- Let people say their opinion. Whoops. OK, maybe I’m NOT the fun teacher…
- Don’t push them for questions.
- Tell them about your experience. Stories. More stories!
- Tell them how you feel about a question.
All in all, I think this is some pretty good feedback. In particular, it interests me that she picked up on a lack of emotion in my presentation. Duly noted!
Thanks, Lily. You are a wonderful partner!
This morning, my wife Amy labeled yesterday a “falling off the horse” kind of day.
She’s right. And I wish that comment was only about our daughter’s failed soccer tryout…
In this election cycle, the Dixon house was a pro-Clinton house. No candidate is perfect, but we were for Hillary for lots of reasons, including her qualifications, her temperament and the historic nature of her candidacy.
Ironically enough, for those very same reasons we were united against Trump.
And so as the election returns came in and state after state went red, dread started to fall on our little house. Our youngest daughter said, “I’m scared.” Of what? Of the “meanie” that was going to be living in the White House. Our middle daughter, she of the “Girls Rule” T-shirt collection, burst into tears, her dream of a woman achieving the highest office in our land shattered. And our oldest daughter decided she’d join me in what we hoped would be a tension-relieving lap around the neighborhood; the “Walk of Angst” we called it.
Toward the end of the evening, our son walked by on his way to bed. He’s a teenager and, as such, he squarely inhabits his own little world. So I was pleasantly surprised when he stopped to offer what he intended to be words of comfort:
“Don’t worry, Dad. Life will go on. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
I started to mumble back something like “thanks, Son, good night,” when it occurred to me:
This is the time to talk about privilege.
So, more or less, here’s what I told him:
“Buddy, you’re right. For our family, I don’t think much will change with Donald Trump as our President. After all, we’re a white, evangelical, middle-class family. On top of that, you and I are men, and, as always, that will work in our favor as well.
But here’s the thing…it is our privilege to not have to worry so much about an America led by Donald Trump. Millions of Americans, including many of our friends, have a lot to worry about in Donald Trump’s America, from losing health care to deportation to just knowing that the President of our country has mean feelings in his heart about who they are as people.
So, yes, we’ll be fine, but it’s important to know and then do something about the reality that many more won’t be.”
Really, who knows how much a 14 year old can grasp about the toxic realities of privilege in our world? Seems like our son’s brain is full of high school, video games, and trying to consume as much milk as possible.
All I know is this: it is my sacred task to help our kids understand. And lament. And work for change. It is my duty as a Jesus-following father to call out and decry racism, sexism, xenophobia, and every other way that our world does violence to the image of God in people.
Sadly, it looks like the next four years will provide me with lots of opportunities to teach my kids about privilege.
God help us.
When was the last time you were led by a woman?
Over my 2o years as a campus minister, I’ve had two seasons where my direct supervisor was a woman, and many more where I served under the leadership of women in other capacities. It’s true to say that those positive experiences have helped to propel me into reflection on issues of gender and faith, including on this blog.
If the latest polls are correct and Hillary Clinton is elected president in just under two weeks, on January 20, 2017 we will all be led by a woman, for the first time in our country’s history.
And for lots of Americans, and for many male Americans in particular:
That will be a first.
That’s certainly true for Clinton’s running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Here’s Kaine from the other day, from this article:
“Other than supervising attorneys on occasion, this will be the first time I’ve had a female boss,” Sen. Kaine told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview to be aired in full on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. — and he was a little taken aback by the realization.
“Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he chuckled.
Again, I don’t think Kaine is alone in this. And I wonder how the nation will respond to a woman in the oval office. In particular, how will American men, long accustomed to the privileged position in this country, respond as “Hail to the Chief” serenades a woman?
Perhaps Kaine himself can give us a roadmap how men might engage a President Clinton. More from the article:
A civil rights lawyer and self-described feminist, Kaine said he “relishes” the idea of reinventing gender norms in the White House alongside Clinton, who could be the first women elected president of the United States.
“I get to be now, play a supportive role — that’s what the vice president’s main job is — to a woman who’s going to make history, to a president who will preside over the centennial of women getting the right to vote,” Kaine said.
He added that as much as Clinton could normalize the idea of a woman in the White House, his vice presidency would normalize the notion that “strong men should definitely support strong women.”
Of course, there’s bound to be some confusion, Kaine acknowledged. For instance, he said: “Is my wife Second Lady if there’s no First Lady?”
Nevertheless, Kaine said he was excited to create a new model.
“There’s no complete playbook for this, but that’s cool too,” he said. “There’s traditions that you honor, but it’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. So you got to make your own traditions.”
Three comments on Kaine’s posture here.
First, it will be important to acknowledge the novelty of the situation. This will indeed be something new. For the first time, a woman will hold the highest office in our government. And, the truth is that new things can take some getting used to. So each of us should expect a bit of internal dissonance, particularly at the beginning.
Second, I appreciate Kaine’s posture towards the new thing. He is predisposed to be supportive. Now, he’s her VP choice, so of course he’s going to say that, but what about the rest of us? When George H.W. Bush left office, he wrote a note to his successor, Bill Clinton, and here’s how he closed the letter: “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” In the current political morass, this brand of civility feels like a pipe dream. But what if we find that within ourselves, committing to be supportive? What would it mean for Clinton? What would it mean for us?
Third, Kaine calls us to a paradigm shift. Here it is: “strong men should definitely support strong women.” Friends, that is a vision we can and should get behind. To go a step further, I’ll say that “strong men definitely supporting strong women” is a vision that the Bible affirms. You see, the message of Scripture is that women and men are called to jointly steward our world. Sometimes, that means men will lead, other times, women will lead, and, all in all, joyful support should mark the partnership.
If the trends continue as the campaign (mercifully) winds down, Hillary Clinton will make history on January 20th. Indeed, for the first time in our 227 year history, the country’s daughters will have someone placing their hand on a Bible who looks and talks like them. It will be a powerful occasion.
And the country’s sons? May we respond like Tim Kaine.
It’s not an easy thing to choose a blog name.
At least it wasn’t easy for me. While I don’t remember my rejected names, I acutely remember the pressure I felt about getting it right. After all, if you are intending to produce a blog for the long haul, and you hope folks engage with it, you’ve got to have a solid title.
And so, after much consideration, some 4 years ago I landed on Challenging Tertullian. And, thankfully, I haven’t regretted it.
Tragically, in choosing the name I had lots of options. Because, historically speaking, it seems like part of the job description for a key leader in the church has been launching patriarchal and misogynistic quotes into the culture. If you need a reminder, go here and here…and then go take out your aggression somehow. In the end, I landed on Tertullian because I found his “devil’s gateway” quote to be the worst of the bunch.
So the name was simple, but the adjective was tough. On one hand, I wanted a word that communicated confrontation. I mean, I was planning to take the theology espoused by Tertullian and his ilk to task. So it had to be a tough word.
On the other hand, it couldn’t be too tough. No Lambasting Tertullian, or Taking Tertullian Out Behind the Shed, or anything like that. For two reasons.
One, because I think dialogue is important. Anyone can (and does!) throw bombs, particularly in the social media age. I happen to think that tone matters, and that conversation marked by seeking understanding should be the goal. So, “challenging” felt like a good compromise; if Tertullian and I went to coffee, I’d express my opinion, hear his reply and we’d go from there. We’d have, you know, a conversation.
The other reason I didn’t want my adjective to be too tough is that no person is ever just one thing. As much as I might enjoy pummeling Tertullian into theological submission, I must acknowledge that he’s not wrong about everything, every time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet Tertullian someday in heaven. Too often, disagreement with someone in one area means we reject them completely. It’s another persistent problem in the all-too-toxic public square.
Case in point, this post, from Marg Mowczko. I’ve been reading Marg’s New Life blog for awhile now (you should too!), and in her latest post, she excerpts a quote from Tertullian about marriage. Here’s a portion of the quote:
How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts.
Awesome, right? Like, I could use that the next time I conduct a wedding!
If you read Marg’s post, you’ll get a bit of the backstory for this quote, and I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure how to reconcile Tertullian’s “devil’s gateway” stinker with this wonderful bit of prose. But I do know that, somehow, both sentiments came out of the same heart and mind.
So I guess I’ll do this: celebrate Tertullian’s vision for marriage…
…and continue to challenge the heck out of his posture toward women.
Mr. Phelps is great and all, but it looks like Tertullian has been working on some newspaper headlines…